June 18, 2017

I'm sorry, Mr. Thornburg

It's my fault.  Every year I answer a list of preseason questions about the Red Sox.  This year I was asked if there was an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season.  I answered that Tyler Thornburg was going to be a lights out set up guy that would give us a very solid bullpen.
Now, our bullpen HAS vastly exceeded expectations so far, but Thornburg has not been a part of it, nor will he be for the rest of the season.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time that my preseason forecast has cursed a player that season.  In fact, it seems that whatever player(s) I highlight in my posts end up under performing that season.

In 2012, when asked about what prospect could make an impact I picked Jose Iglesias, saying that "If Boston is scoring lots of runs, but infield defense becomes a problem, he could be called up early to solidify the shortstop position".
Well, he got called up in late August and batted all of .118.  As far as being a defensive upgrade, I'll admit that his defense did help the Red Sox win the World Series.  But that wasn't until in 2013, when he was making errors for the Tigers against us in the ALCS.

In 2013, when asked "What rookie will make the biggest impact in 2013?", I said: "Bradley and/or Brentz may get called up early, and if they impress they may stick around."
After an impressive spring training, JBJ was on the Opening day roster, but struggling to hit .150 he went back down to the minors in early June.  He made some good defensive plays, but a negative WAR never impresses anyone.  And Bryce Brentz didn't appear in an MLB game until September 2014.

In 2014, I picked Xander as the rookie who would make the most impact, saying: "Xander Bogaerts has a shot at being the Rookie of the Year, after already having been a big part of last year's postseason in Boston and his bat should have an immediate impact on the 2014 team."  Turns out that .240 hitting batters with a sub .300 OBP and mediocre defense don't get a lot of Rookie of the Year votes.  Who knew?
I also said of Will Middlebrooks that  "after some struggles last year, I look forward to watching him bounce back and show some gold glove caliber defense and become a legitimate power threat with 30+ home runs".  After having hit 17 home runs in slightly more than half a season the previous year, he only hit 2 in 2014 while batting below the Mendoza line.  Sigh.

And last year, I picked Blake Swihart as the player to make the biggest stride, when I said that the previous season he "started showing some power, hitting three of his five home runs in September. I expect he will continue to develop into an offensive force, and by the end of the season they will keep his bat in the lineup at first base or DH, when his body needs a break from squatting behind the plate."  Well, he stuck behind the plate for all of one week at the start of the season, before being sent to Pawtucket to work out as a left fielder.  He got recalled at the end of May and played outfield for two weeks before his season ended when he lost a battle with the left field foul wall at Fenway.

If there is a silver lining in all of this it's that most of these players returned to impress in following seasons.  Jose Iglesias was runner-up Rookie of the Year in 2013, and an all-star in 2015.  Xander has won the Silver Slugger award for shortstops the last two seasons and was also an all-star in 2015. Jackie Bradley was an all-star last season and has been providing gold-glove caliber defense whenever he's been playing.

With luck, even though this year will be a forgettable one for Tyler Thornburg, maybe my forecast was just one season too soon, and he'll be the shutdown reliever I was expecting in 2018.

P.S. Don't forget the guy who got you started in baseball.  Here are some great books to get him for Father's Day.

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